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Experiments With Panicky Ants Could Help In Emergency Evacuations

MELBOURNE (UPI) — An experiment with ants could help architects design buildings that can be evacuated quickly in emergencies, Australian researchers say.

Escape times from office buildings, railway or bus stations and sports arenas can be affected by the position of exits and obstructions such as support columns, but there is little data on the best layouts because it would be unethical to fake an emergency to panic people for tests, scientists at Monash University in Melbourne said.

Monash researcher Majid Sarvi has gotten around the problem by using ants to provide data on the behavior of panicking crowds “at low cost and with no need for ethical approval,” NewScientist.com reported Wednesday.

Sarvi and his colleagues used a citronella insect repellent to make Argentine ants flee from structures with varied exits and obstruction positions, discovering the ants exited most swiftly from layouts with exits in corners rather than in the middle of hallways.

Exits in the middle of a hallway tended to jam up, creating confusing flows of ants, they said.

Layouts were then tested in computer models of human behavior, indicating evacuation times were greatly reduced when people in the model left by a corner exit, even if it had a large structural column in front of it, compared to a lone exit in the middle of a hallway.

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